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Review: Two (mostly) Vocal Albums

April 21, 2009

Review of Songs of Lee Hoiby and So Many Journeys released on Albany Records


            I recently got two albums with the intention of reviewing that seemed to shine in the same way and have the same detractions.  Both albums have absolutely wonderful music and excellent performances.  At the same time, the albums find ways to eventually wear on the listener’s ears. 



            So Many Journeys consists of music by Joseph Summer using texts and scenes from Shakespeare (link goes to the Shakespeare Concerts website, which is responsible for this music), and it is a fantastic journey through the bard’s works.  The album is a varied lot: Two sonnets, a monologue from The Merchant of Venice, a sonata for cello based on an aria from Summer’s opera Courting Disaster, and excerpts from Hamlet, including a duet, ballet and two solos.  The music is all excellent – accessible new music with both romantic and modern overtones.  It is no secret that Summer is able to reflect on the complexities of Shakespeare through music. 

The performances are all very good – Miroslav Sekera (piano) Petr Nouzovsky (cello) support the singers Kellie Van Horn and Christian Van Horn when necessary and shine on their own at times as well.  The singers are also strong and at times magnificent.  The only downside to their performances is a certain operatic tendency that, after 50 minutes of singing begins to overpower some of the texts’ material.  Certainly this is not a problem in doses, just over the course of the entire album.  Highlights from the album include the duet that is the title track and Sekera’s solo playing on The Dumb Show.


            Songs of Lee Hoiby is a strictly vocal album, featuring the soprano Ursula Kleinecke-Boyer and pianist Maria Perez-Goodman.  Hoiby, who has written many art songs and a number of opera, composed songs on the album represent a wide variety of texts – some of the included poets are Yeats, Pound, cummings, Coleridge, and Lewis Carrol (not to mention one text by Hoiby himself).  The fact that these diverse poets are all transformed to fit the single expressive style that is Hoiby’s music is both amazing and eventually tires the listener out.  The songs on the album, particularly the first half seem to all blend together. 

            The songs, both the best and worst, are all capable vehicles for Kleinecke-Boyer to demonstrate her vocal abilities.  She has a wonderful vibrato that simply shimmers on long notes, and she is able to emotionally capture every high and low in the nineteen songs.  Her accompanist, Maria Perez-Goodman, does exactly what you hope from an accompanist, which is to hold steady throughout while being responsive to the singer’s lead.  The album’s opening song –Winter Song, could be Kleinecke-Boyer’s best display of vocal quality.  That said, the album may have saved its best for last, with a song entitled The Serpent (text by Theodore Roethke), a bouncy song brimming with theatre.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 25, 2009 2:25 pm

    Doug, thanks for the review. I appreciate it, and I’m delighted you enjoyed the music. I agree, too, that the CD shouldn’t be listened to seriatim. Too dark: contralto, bass, cello… It doesn’t work as a concert, not enough treble. If you want, let me send you some more of my CDs, with actual sopranos and tenors…
    Sincerely, Joe Summer

  2. Lee Hoiby permalink
    May 4, 2009 2:06 pm

    Hi Doug —
    Thanks for the review. Glad you found the songs amazing .. sorry you found monotony, but realize they weren’t written to heard all together like that!
    Best, Lee

  3. Doug permalink*
    May 4, 2009 9:18 pm

    I do realize that. I was reviewing for someone buying the album – as a radio dj I actually find the piecemeal nature of the album great.

    I also find it great that you have (purposefully or not) embraced the iTunes Singles generation. Long song cycles don’t work as well on shuffle!


  1. Playlist: 4/22/09 6-8pm « Endless Possibilities

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